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AFSCME Local 1733: Memphis, Tennessee Records

 Collection
Identifier: LR001992
This collection traces the first five years of AFSCME Local 1733 in Memphis, Tennessee, with special emphasis on 1968-1970. The collection is divided into two series. The first, and larger, is composed of media clippings that trace the progress of Local 1733 in its various endeavors. The clippings series is divided into two subseries: newspaper clippings and journal clippings. The newspaper clippings form the vast majority of the entire collection, cover the years 1968-1973, and come mainly from The Memphis Commercial Appeal and The Memphis Press-Scimitar. Other regional and national news organizations are also represented. Journal clippings primarily discuss King’s assassination in 1968.

The second, smaller series is comprised of material from Local 1733 relating primarily to the 1968 sanitation workers strike, but also relating to other 1733 campaigns. The material includes correspondence; workers’ pay stubs; information on C.O.M.E. (Community on the Move for Equality), a group organized to gain community support for the sanitation strikers’ cause in 1968; Memphis U.S.A., an organization formed to raise funds for sanitation strikers in 1968; press releases; resolutions of support; statements from the strikers; and information on a “Look In,” a 1972 campaign by Local 1733 to encourage fair practices at the credit bureau.

Important Subjects: African Americans—Civil rights. Boycotts. Community organization. National Association for the Advancement of Colored People. Race discrimination. Sanitation Workers Strike, Memphis, Tenn., 1968. School attendance. St. Joseph’s Hospital (Memphis, Tenn.). Strikes and lockouts—Hospitals—Memphis, Tenn.

Important Names: Abernathy, Ralph, 1926-1990 Ciampa, P.J. Epps, Jesse Jones, T.O. King, Martin Luther, Jr., 1929-1968 Loeb, Henry Lucy, William Wurf, Jerry, 1919-

Series Description: Series I: Clippings, 1968-1973 This larger series is composed of media clippings that trace the progress of Local 1733 in its various campaigns. The clippings series is divided into two subseries: newspaper clippings and journal clippings. The newspaper clippings form the vast majority of the entire collection, cover the years 1968-1973, and come mainly from The Memphis Commercial Appeal and The Memphis Press-Scimitar. Other regional and national news organizations are also represented. Journal clippings primarily discuss King’s assassination in 1968.

Series II: Local 1733 Material, 1962-1972, n.d. The second, smaller series is comprised of material from Local 1733 relating primarily to the 1968 sanitation workers strike, but also relating to other 1733 campaigns. The material includes correspondence; workers’ pay stubs; information on C.O.M.E. (Community on the Move for Equality), a community group organized along with the sanitation strikers in 1968 to support the cause; Memphis U.S.A., an organization formed to raise funds for sanitation strikers in 1968; press releases; resolutions of support; statements from the strikers; and information on a “Look In,” a 1972 campaign by Local 1733 to encourage fair practices at the credit bureau.

Dates

  • 1962 - 1974
  • Majority of material found within 1968 - 1970

Creator

Language of Materials

Material almost entirely in English.

Access

Collection is open for research.

Use

Refer to the Walter P. Reuther Library Rules for Use of Archival Materials. Restrictions: Researchers may encounter records of a sensitive nature – personnel files, case records and those involving investigations, legal and other private matters. Privacy laws and restrictions imposed by the Library prohibit the use of names and other personal information which might identify an individual, except with written permission from the Director and/or the donor.

Extent

2 Linear Feet (2 SB)

Abstract

Sanitation workers in AFSCME Local 1733 in Memphis, Tennessee led a strike in 1968 to gain union recognition. The strike lasted for 65 days and garnered national attention as Local 1733's campaign for labor rights became fused with the struggle for civil rights. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. lent his support to the strikers by visiting Memphis and leading marches. While there, on April 4, 1968, King was assassinated. The strike was settled soon after King's death. Local 1733 went on to wage other campaigns for workers' rights, including a push to raise wages for public employees in the summer of 1969, a school boycott in the fall of 1969 that corresponded to the NAACP's drive for more racially diverse representation on the Memphis City Council, and a push to unionize workers at St. Joseph Hospital in the fall of 1969.

The vast majority of this collection consists of newspaper clippings that follow these campaigns in both local and national publications. Some additional material relating to the strikers' strategies and the organizations formed to support the strikers such as Community on the Move for Equality (C.O.M.E.) and Memphis U.S.A. also appears.

History

Two AFSCME departments maintained most of the records in this collection: the Public Policy Department and the Organizing Department. Some records were maintained directly by Memphis Local 1733. These records were originally pulled together from the separate departments during the creation of an exhibit on the 1968 sanitation strike. The material was kept together and processed as one collection.

AFSCME Local 1733 in Memphis was officially recognized in 1968, but it formed several years earlier in an attempt to gain collective bargaining rights for Memphis city employees. Local 1733 earned assistance from AFSCME International when sanitation workers began a strike on February 12, 1968. While the workers struck for union recognition, pay increase, a grievance procedure, and dues deduction, racial discrimination was also a major target of the strike. In fact, inequality between black and white sanitation men was the major impetus for the strike.

White sanitation workers enjoyed many benefits not shared by their African American counterparts. When it rained, white workers were allowed to go home and still be paid. Black workers had to remain at work or lose payment that day. One day, while rain poured down, two black sanitation workers got into the back of their garbage truck to stay dry. The truck short-circuited, and the two men were crushed to death. After this, Local 1733 began its strike.

AFSCME International leaders like President Jerry Wurf, Field Staff Director P.J. Ciampa, and then Associate Director of Legislative and Community Affairs William Lucy came to Memphis to help organize the protest. In time, they invited national civil rights leaders to Memphis to help their cause. Martin Luther King, Jr. traveled to Memphis to support the strikers and organize marches. The first march ended in violence, but King returned to lead what he hoped would be a nonviolent march. On April 4, 1968, however, before the march could take place, King was assassinated.

After this, President Lyndon B. Johnson urged Memphis Mayor Henry Loeb to return to the negotiating table, and on April 16, after 65 days, Local 1733 won union recognition, wage increases, dues check off, merit and seniority promotion, and a non-discrimination statement for union members.

While best known for this campaign, Local 1733 waged other protests in the months and years following King’s assassination. Once Local 1733 had official recognition, its leaders, T.O. Jones and Jesse Epps, worked to organize and advance other city employees, including hospital and school employees.

In June 1969, as part of an AFSCME campaign to increase wages for city employees, a group of white Memphis women toured low-income neighborhoods and the homes of city sanitation and hospital workers. Shocked at the conditions of poverty, these women lent their support and petitioned the city council to increase wages. With union agitation and the support of the white women, AFSCME won a wage increase and three-year contract for city workers, beginning July 1, 1969.

In the fall of 1969, Local 1733 led two other major campaigns with mixed success. The first involved St. Joseph’s Hospital, a Catholic hospital whose workers Local 1733 attempted to organize. After a dispute with hospital administrators about union elections, workers began an 80-day strike. During the same time, the NAACP began to demand more racially equal representation on Memphis’s city council. This led to a citywide “United Black Coalition” led by the NAACP and AFSCME Local 1733. In addition to the St. Joseph’s Hospital strike, the Coalition led marches and urged boycotts, both of commercial districts and of the schools, organizing a series of “Black Mondays” where parents were asked to keep their children home from school on the first day of the week. The marches resulted in the jailing of civil rights leaders like the Rev. Ralph Abernathy. The St. Joseph strike was settled just before the end of 1969. A lawsuit filed by the Board of Education convinced leaders to call off the school boycott.

In mid-1970, Jesse Epps resigned as Local 1733 leader under allegations of misuse of union funds. Local 1733 continued to address issues related to sanitation and hospital workers, as well as other city employees.

Arrangement

Arranged in 2 series – Series 1 (Boxes 1-2), and Series 2 (Box 2). Series I: Clippings, 1968-1973, is divided into two subseries: newspaper clippings and journal clippings. The newspaper clippings subseries forms the bulk of the entire collection and is arranged chronologically. The journal clippings subseries is arranged alphabetically by journal title and chronologically within each title. Series II: Local 1733 Material, 1962-1972, n.d., is arranged alphabetically by subject.

Acquisition

The records of AFSCME Local 1733 were placed in the Walter P. Reuther Library in 1975.

Related Materials

AFSCME collections

Processing History

Processed and finding aid written by Johanna Russ in September 2008.

Creator

Title
Guide to the AFSCME Local 1733: Memphis, Tennessee Records
Status
completed
Author
Processed by Johanna Russ.
Date
2008-09
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
English

Repository Details

Part of the Walter P. Reuther Library Repository

Contact:
5401 Cass Avenue
Detroit MI 48202 USA